DIFFICULT YEARS. Delia Balilo Nguyen is another OFW who has survived tough times in Athens.
Fried fish with rice, sweet sour pork and Peking duck with broccoli or with pancakes. These are just some of the dishes being served at Viet Au restaurant in Ambelokipi of Athens where many Filipinos reside. Five kinds of set menus with choice of appetizers, main dish and rice at 5 Euro ($6.75*) is a value-for-money offer for delivery to nearby offices. No wonder the restaurant is a popular choice of Greek and Filipinos alike.
Viet Au, established in 2005, is owned and managed by Delia Balilo Nguyen. Originally it was named Golden Greek restaurant.
“May tumawag at sabi hindi ko daw puwedeng gamitin ang word na ‘Greek’ kaya pinalitan ko ng 'Viet Au' (Somebody called and said I cannot use the word ‘Greek’ for my restaurant name. So I changed it to Viet Au)," Delia said.
She is not only the manager but also the chef who takes care of planning and preparing the dishes.
“We also have eat-all-you-can buffet on Sundays at 10 euros ($13.50)," Delia said.
The buffet usually includes from 12 to 18 dishes such as pancit (noodles), teriyaki chicken wings, barbecue spare ribs, Vietnamese spring rolls, and other Asian dishes. Sometimes she adds Filipino food like dinakdakan, Bicol Express and menudo.
Delia’s experience during her early years in Greece is one of hardship and trials. She entered Greece in 1986 with the help of her neighbor and her sister who paid for her expenses. With a two-year contract, she was a kasambahay (domestic helper) for a Greek couple who had two kids. She worked 14 hours a day, with a day off of a day and 5 hours only.
She lived in a boarding house consisting of two rooms, together with 17 other Filipinas. It was in this boarding house where she met her husband, Nguyen Quoc Thanh, a Vietnamese refugee. Their love story is like a teleserye (drama series) where the man was visiting another lady in the boarding house, but ended up with her instead. Marriage was the only way she could get away from her Greek employer. She did not work for 4 years after she got married to Nguyen in 1988.
When she resumed working, Delia was employed for 10 months at Kowloon restaurant in Glyfada. For the next 15 years she worked at Epicure, a restaurant chain owned by a Greek-American. Again, she was overworked, on duty from 11 pm to 4 am at the canteen owned by the restaurant, and at 5:30 am of the same day, she would go back to the restaurant to serve. She would be dizzy most of the time from lack of sleep and fatigue.
Her husband at died of kidney failure at 36. They have 3 daughters, two of whom have finished college in Greece. The son of her husband from a previous marriage works as her all around assistant.
Delia does not have any culinary training. She learned the rudiments of food preparation and cooking by experience and by watching television cooking programs. Her creativity and passion for cooking are evident in the delicious and authentic Chinese and Vietnamese dishes being served at the restaurant.
Mr John Ramos, one of the customers, was all praises for the noodles with shrimps and teriyaki duck he had that day.
Weddings, birthdays and baptismal receptions are also being held there.
“Nagpapasalamat ako sa mga kababayan natin na kumakain pa rin dito (I am grateful to our countrymen who continue to patronize my restaurant)," Delia said.
Delia is an OFWs in Greece who are making good in the food industry, not only as chef and hardworking food maker, but as restaurateur as well who continue to beat the Greek economic crisis